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Job Magician Beware of Doing a Quick Diagnosis of a Prospective Employer at the Interview

(In other words, keep your mouth shut when interviewing until you know what you’re talking about)


When talking to potential candidates, I find that some are quick to point out what they think are glaring weaknesses in my client companies (these are all real-world examples, by the way):

> “2000 employees and only $300-million in sales?  We do ten times that with the same number of people.” 

That may be true about your company, but your business is material-intensive. My client has almost no material costs. Their biggest cost is people, and what they do can’t possibly be automated (or off-shored, for that matter). There are only four companies in their niche industry in the world.  Although you sell to the same customers, you don’t work for one of their competitors. You’re projecting based on your experience in a completely different type of company.

> “300 to 400 jobs on the manufacturing floor at a time seems exceedingly high for a $15-million company.  It sounds like the company must have excessive work-in-process, late deliveries and an MRP system that is out of sync.”

Actually, the reason the company has 300 to 400 jobs on the floor at a time is because they custom-make numerous small orders, at a handsome profit, I might add. Few companies will run orders as small as 5 to 25 pieces. They actually ship their orders in two weeks, so the problems that this candidate imagined are not this company’s problems. They certainly have manufacturing problems to work on, but the things that he mentioned aren’t even close. 

> “They have to use GLP.  That’s an FDA requirement.” 

Once again, you don’t know enough about my client to make that statement. My client isn’t required to follow GLP (if they were required to and hadn't done so, the federal government would have long shut them down long ago), and you just blew your chance at becoming their VP/Quality because you shot your mouth off before you found out what you were talking about.

Assuming that a new company is identical to the company or companies at which you’ve worked is dangerous – it is rare-to-unheard-of for two companies to be truly the same, even if they are in what seems like the same industry.

Instead of making a bold indictment right away (and these statements do sound like indictments) because you’re hoping to impress the interviewer or recruiter with your ability to size up a company and its problems quickly, you’d be better off simply asking non-confrontational, matter-of-fact questions, such as:

> “How large are your typical orders?”  “What’s the lead time on your orders?”

> “What quality system do you use?”  … “So you use ISO.  Why do you use that rather than GLP?” 

Some candidates don’t make the bold statements like I’ve mentioned earlier, but do voice quick conclusions, combining what they’ve heard in the industry with what they've heard in the interview. These candidates usually come across as unpleasant, and their comments are generally way off the mark.

  In truth, you couldn’t possibly know what the real problems are at a company until you’ve worked there for a while. Be wary of playing consultant right away and instead concentrate on asking questions to get to know what they do and what they believe their problems are.

If the interviewer asks you how they would solve a problem that they’re facing, then they have given you permission to provide your advice.  Still, ask as many questions as you can to learn about the scenario they pose before giving them any answers, and it can’t hurt to make a statement and then ask additional questions in between to enable you to learn more about what is really going on as you formulate a potential strategy.

  • SCARY Interview Questions


(drawing courtesy of


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